Indonesia: Gubernatorial elections in Jakarta (April 19)

Anti-Christian and anti-Chinese sentiments polarize Indonesia’s society (Press Release)

The fierce election campaigns, in which religion and racism play a great role, has left deep trenches within Indonesia’s society. Photo: USAID Indonesia via Flickr

Prior to this Wednesday’s crucial second round of voting in the gubernatorial elections in Jakarta, which is highly anticipated throughout the world, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) expressed its concerns regarding the growing religious intolerance and racism against minorities in Indonesia. “The fierce election campaigns, in which many politicians tried to instrumentalize religious and racial affairs to secure their own power, has left deep trenches within Indonesia’s society,” criticized Ulrich Delius, the STP’s Asia expert, in Göttingen. “Especially the Chinese minority is reminded of the anti-Chinese pogroms in Indonesia in 1998.” Back then, about 1,000 people got killed. The current governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is also known as “Ahok”, is trying to be re-elected. He belongs to the Chinese minority.

Following the polarizing election campaigns, the Indonesian President Joko Widodo had called for unity. “However, after the anti-Christian and anti-Chinese agitation during the last few months, Indonesia is not the same country any more. Widodo has repositioned himself as well. He is now focusing on matters of Islam and nationalism to please the Muslim extremists,” Delius said. “This is dangerous for Indonesia – and a severe setback for the vast majority of the Indonesian Muslim society that had so far largely tolerated religious minorities.”

In the last few months, radical Muslims had tried to discredit the governor by accusing him of blasphemy. In mass demonstrations, they had demanded the Christian politician to be arrested unless he were to step down. This was also continued in the election campaign. On Thursday, the prosecutors will most probably hold their plea to have Ahok convicted. The verdict will be announced in May. On occasion of today’s election, radical Islamists had planned public rallies against Ahok’s possible re-election – but the police did not allow any demonstrations on election day.

Ahok’s counter-candidate, the former Minister of Culture, Anies Baswedan, can rely on support by the trade unions, which are fueling the anti-Chinese sentiment with reports about the allegedly illegal immigration and employment of Chinese people. Populists are demanding more jobs for native Indonesians, warning that China is trying to economically subjugate the country. Economic envy against the successful Chinese traders is to be seen as a long-term cause of racist sentiment against the Chinese-born minority, which – with about 2.8 million people – makes up 1.2 percent of the population of Indonesia.

Header Photo: USAID Indonesia via Flickr